27 June 2013

SAHA supports Human Rights Commission Business and Transparency conference

On 27 June 2013 SAHA attended a successful Business and Transparency conference hosted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to promote dialogue and advocacy on transparency in the private sector. 

A key theme of the conference, set by Mr Trevor Manuel, Minister in the Presidency for National Planning and Ms Pregs Govender, Deputy Chair of the Human Rights Commission was how South Africa's Constitution, acknowledged as one of the most progressive and inclusive in the world, can move beyond the achievement of a consensus of rights set down on paper, to become a lived reality, especially for the poorest of the poor in South Africa.

Panel diSAHRC Conferencescussions lead by keynote speakers provided context and insights regarding business accountability for human rights, as articulated in the South African Constitution, at international law and in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights ("Protect, Respect and Remedy"), in particular the need for transparency to address societal concern about corruption, particularly when delivering public services on behalf of government.

Project Officer at SAHA and attendee at the conference, Senkhu Maimame, welcomed the positive engagement with the private sector at the conference:

"SAHA's Freedom of Information Programme actively seeks information from the private sector relating to the protection of South African's rights under the Promotion of Access to Information ActOur experience, reflected by others at the conference, is that there is a way to go for some companies to fully understand and appropriately respond to PAIA requests.

However, it was encouraging that many business leaders at the meeting recognised that transparency by business goes beyond information release through the PAIA process, in that accountability to shareholders and corporate social responsibility goes beyond meeting regulatory compliance.   

I strongly endorse the views expressed by Ms Nicky Newton-King, CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and others at the conference, that transparency will only be achieved when business takes a more proactive role in releasing information in clear,  short , regular, accessible and targeted releases, not because business is required to do so, but because a brand that has the trust of the community has multi-layered benefits to owners, employees, consumers and society at large". 

SAHA now looks forward to receiving the SAHRC conference report, which will inform a survey of business on practices and attitudes to access to information.